Blisters Eventually Turn to Calluses: The Ups and Downs (and Pukes)

When I step back and look at the last two days…I’ve had two amazing days. Tuesday I rowed my longest row yet, 28 miles from Port Washington to Sheboygan. Wednesday morning I got up and rowed 24 miles to Manitowoc. When I look at the big picture I feel positive and that things are going as planned. In a lot of cases things are going better than planned, including the press we’re getting and the continued fundraising and support coming in from all over the Lake.

I have to be honest though: yesterday was a really hard day. I left the Sheboygan harbor and headed north with a cancer survivor who paddled along side me in a kayak. Tim heard about my adventure and decided to come out and join me for part of my morning row, and he was a delight to spend my morning with. Tim started a program in Sheboygan for survivors to get them doing exercise together. He shared how they got started and even recently went zip-lining as a group. Much like the ROW program, their goal is to help people stay active as a part of their recovery plan. Having him paddle next to me yesterday was such a treat and inspiration. Somehow there’s comfort in knowing that there are other people out there doing the same (sometimes seemingly crazy) thing you are.

The winds started picking up yesterday, as expected. I knew they were going to pick up from the south and push me towards Manitowoc. I didn’t mind. I was going north anyway! I saw a few hazards on my GPS so stayed out further east (and deeper) than I usually row.

Then the winds really picked up. Liv was rockin’. I could still row through parts of it,but the waves were deeper, thicker, and more square than I had ever seen before.  They made me seasick in a matter of minutes. More seasick than I have ever been.  The problem with being seasick on Liv that I’m the only engine. So if I can’t row, then I can’t control the boat. And in waves like this it’s hard to control the both without being seasick. I was over 20 miles into the row, making great time, and I just got really depressed and low. I thought I was being cautious and smart by staying off the water in high winds, but the Lake was picking up, tossing me around, and making me so sick.  I broke down. I don’t know what it was — being nauseous, the heat — but I just started crying.  I whined. I tossed left and right, throwing up and having a pity party for myself less than two miles from shore. I began to wish that someone else could pick me up. “Why do I always have to be the one to pick me up?” I asked myself. “Why am I on this lake in this boat? Why am I doing this to myself?”.

But sometimes all a girl needs is a good cry. It must be the endorphins that come through that made my seasickness pause for a moment or two. I started rowing again, searching for inspiration in my ipod. I started feeling a little better and began making ground (or do I say water?) again. Brenda had called the coast guard earlier in the day to let them know I was coming north. When the coast guard started calling me every half hour to make sure I was ok, I knew the winds must be bad, and that I wasn’t the only one worried about me getting to a harbor safely. There was comfort in that. I actually thought it was really sweet. Then I remembered it’s their job, and that I’m really lucky to live in a place where people keep us safe. I told them I was all right and thanked them for calling.

Soon I was a mile away from the harbor and they called me again. I asked if they could help me get into the harbor safely because I wasn’t sure if I could navigate my way in with the winds. They were happy to help and I was so relieved I wasn’t “bugging” them! It continues to be hard to ask for help…but I’m learning. I tried to pull myself together before they got to Liv and I but I have a feeling they knew just where I was. I was seasick, but mostly just a big mess. They kept saying “this is our job, we want you to be safe, it’s ok!” and I kept apologizing.  I got into the harbor exhausted. While I rowed 4 less miles that day than the day before, I felt like I had rowed 20 more. All the anxiety and energy that goes into controlling the boat in high winds is unreal. I don’t even know where the energy comes from, but I know I’ve certainly used it ALL at the end of the day. I lay down and gathered my thoughts. I called to check in with my parents for the first time in a long time, and my mom was more proud of me for asking for help on Wednesday than she was of me rowing 28 miles on Tuesday. I understood what she was getting at but it still took me a few more hours to feel okay about asking for help. I still don’t really know how to feel about it. Sometimes I wish I did it without their help.

How my body is holding up
It’s been almost two weeks. My body is good.  On a scale of 1-10 I feel like an 8. I’m wearing gloves but my hands are callousing and the layers are getting thick.  When I wake up in the morning I feel like I’ve got arthritis in my hands. It’s hard to make a fist or open them. I have some pain in my right heel but I’ve been trying to stretch it as much as possible at night. My right arm tendinitis is occasionally painful but if I don’t think about it I forget it’s there. My knees ache and are swollen. The only comfort in this is that I know I’m using my legs to row. The other comfort I find is Advil liquid gels for inflammation.

What my days are typically like
I wake up at 5am to check the wind and weather reports. I get the cabin in order, putting things away so that if Liv and I toss on my row then nothing will spill, get lost or broken. I usually can’t eat in the morning. I’m too anxious to feel hungry. I drink water all morning to make sure I’m hydrated. If I don’t have to go to the bathroom by 7 that’s usually a sign I need to drink a lot more. Sometimes I panic about staying hydrated. I worry and chug a few liters (or whatever my stomach will take). I get rowing and set my course for the day. I assess my goals with what the weather is letting me actually accomplish and communicate with Brenda. She knows I’m up and rowing. Sometimes I get in a zone and forget that three hours have passed. Other times the miles just won’t come and the time can’t pass fast enough. Throughout the day I listen to music and I try to eat. I’m not terribly hungry while I row but I know I need fuel because my body starts to get weak. I eat plenty of things: licorice, Luna bars, electrolyte chews.

I am hungry enough to eat a dehydrated meal but too anxious about getting the miles done or getting pushed back down the course while I take twenty minutes to prepare one. There’s really just a lot of anxiety (I’m realizing this as I feel like I’ve typed the word a thousand times). I always feel on edge. I want the perfect course…I want the perfect weather…I want my body to feel good and perform. But there are only so many things I cannot control on this trip, and so maybe I’m just death-grip clenching to everything I can. I’m not sure. I just know I’m tired. I’m emotionally spent and I need to get more rest.

It’s getting easier (or dare I say, “normal”??) — don’t get me wrong. But it’s hard, and I want to communicate that.  Not everything about this trip is going to be sunshine, rainbows, smiley updates on Facebook and happy times. Sometimes I get really depressed and I don’t know what to do. I just wake up and keep rowing because that’s what I need to do, not because I want to or it’s easy. Sometimes I fast forward to August and think about how good it’s going to be to get home. Eat normal food. Sleep in a bed that’s thicker than two inches of foam.

The only person I talk to is Brenda, and she is amazing.  She lets me know where I’m at for the day and how many miles are left. And the woman is just amazing. Can I say that one more time…is that all right? She’s amazing. I know she’s working a full time job and juggling life, and she’s still there for me. Even if I’m in for the night and seemingly fine, she lets me know she’s going into a movie and might not be available for an hour. Someone please win a free vacation for this woman. Please.

What inspires me to keep rowing

1. These amazing posts on Facebook (thank you, thank you THANK YOU!)

2. Steve Cannon-an Iowa man that is RUNNING around Lake Michigan for the Livestrong Foundation. He and I stay in contact and he sends me inspiring notes along the way-mostly that he is “clearing the path” for me as he runs around the Lake.  His friendship is so important to me on bad days…and good days. Thank you Steve.

3. The ROW team sends me emails, texts and love that keep me going.  A continued reminder that we are rowing for each other every day.  I really could not finish this without their support and inspiration…cheers to having an amazing cause to wake up and row for everyday.

Thank you for your continued support of ROW and this trip. Please consider sponsoring a mile of this adventure for $100 or making a donation online.




4 comments on “Blisters Eventually Turn to Calluses: The Ups and Downs (and Pukes)

  1. Jenn, you are amazing, and so inspiring. Of course its going to get tough at times, but you have to stay focused on why you are doing this….cancer won’t rest, so you have to be strong and carry on. You are a freaking rock star and a goddess, keep up the good work.

  2. First I want to say how completely wonderful this story is. I want to say how truly beautiful you are. I want to thank you for doing this. Then if it’s ok, I want to say Row, Jenn, row, in Forest Gump’s voice. ;/

  3. Jenn,
    After meeting you this week in Sheboygan, I have no doubt about your tenacity and strength to do this challenge! I hope tomorrow is a better day! We will be cheering you on as you reach your goal!

  4. Hey Jenn! Thank you for your honest and real words about your trip (and this life): “Not everything about this trip is going to be sunshine, rainbows, smiley updates on Facebook and happy times.” So true!!! And I suspect you might agree… your “adventure” wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if it were!?! It is in those challenging times that we find out who we are and what we’re made of. And, at the end of a day of hard paddling, when you put your head on your pillow; muscles aching from exertion, mind still buzzing with leftover anxieties… you find comfort that the world and this life isn’t the perfect experience that we sometimes think we want it to be. And as much as you want to “control” everything… you see joy and beauty and purpose in the “uncontrollable.” Be safe and enjoy!!!